Tuesday, April 30, 2024

April Reflections

IN April I read thirty-two books. 

Books reviewed at Becky's Book Reviews

37. Uprising. Jennifer A. Nielsen. 2024. 384 pages. [Source: Review copy] [J Historical Fiction; MG Historical Fiction]

38. Snowglobe. (Snowglobe Duology #1) Soyoung Park. Translated by Joungmin Lee Comfort. 2024. 384 pages. [Source: Library] [YA Dystopian; New Adult] 

39. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Suzanne Collins. 2020. [May] 439 pages. [Source: Library] 

40. How To Solve Your Own Murder (Castle Knoll Files #1) Kristen Perrin. 2024. 368 pages. [Source: Library] 

41. One Big Open Sky. Lesa Cline-Ransome. 2024. 304 pages. [Source: Library] 

42. Before Nightfall. Silvia Vecchini. 2024. 128 pages. [Source: Library] 

43. The Mystery of Locked Rooms. Lindsay Currie. 2024. 256 pages. [Source: Library] [Middle grade realistic fiction]

Books reviewed at Young Readers

48. Sing High, Sing Crow (The Great Mathemachicken #3) Nancy Krulik. Illustrated by Charlie Alder. 2024. 112 pages. [Source: Library]

49. Poetry Comics. Grant Snider. 2024. 96 pages. [Source: Library] [poetry] 

50. Butts. Katrine Crow. [Board book] 2020. 20 pages. [Source: Library]

51. Bellies. Katrine Crow. [Board book] 2020. 20 pages. [Source: Library]

52. Counting Our Blessings. Emma Dodd. [Board book] 2020. 24 pages. [Source: Library]

53. (Little Chunkies) Animals in the Forest. DK Publishing. 2023. [Board book] 10 pages. [Source: Library] 

54. Board Book: Marvel Beginnings: Spider-Man Goes to the Farm. (978-1368090377) Steve Behling. 2024. 10 pages. [Source: Library]

55. Mary Had a Little Lamb. (Board Book) (Touch and trace) Silver Dolphin. 2024. 10 pages. [Source: Library] 

56.  Board book: Kisses: A Lift the Flap and Sliding Parts Book. Marta Comin. 2023. [December] 16 pages. [Source: Library]

57. Boop Me! Yappy Puppy. (Board book) Claire Baker. 2024. 10 pages. [Source: Library]

58. What is Snow? Very First Questions and Answers. (Board book) Katie Daynes. 2018/2023. 12 pages. [Source: Library]

59. Christmas at Nana's House. (Board book) Larissa Juliano. 2023. 20 pages. [Source: Library]

60. That's Not My Santa (Board book) Fiona Watt. 2008/2012/2023. 8 pages. [Source: Library]

61. Baby's First Passover. (Board book). DK Publishing. 2024. 13 pages. [Source: Library]    

62. Everything a Drum. Sarah Warren. Illustrated by Camila Carrossine. 2023. 24 pages. [Source: Library] [picture book] 

63. Henry's School Days. (Too Many School Days) Robert Quackenbush. 1987/2023. 40 pages. [Source: Library] [Picture book] 

64. Tangle-Knot. Loretta Ellsworth. Illustrated by Annabel Tempest. 2023. 32 pages. [Source: Library] [Picture book] 

65. This Baby. That Baby. Cari Best. Illustrated by Rashin Kheiriyeh. 2024. [February] 40 pages. [Source: Library] [Picture book]

 Books reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible

26. Isaiah: God Saves Sinners. Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr. R. (Preaching The Word Commentaries). Crossway. 2005. 496 pages. [Source: Bought]

27. Are We Living In the Last Days. Bryan Chapell. 2024. 256 pages. [Source: Library]

28. The Deconstruction of Christianity: What It Is, Why It's Destructive, And How to Respond. Alisa Childers and Tim Barnett. Foreword by Carl R. Trueman. 2024. 304 pages. [Source: Review copy]

29. All My Secrets. Lynn Austin. 2024. 400 pages. [Source: Library] 

Bibles reviewed at Operation Actually Read Bible 

5. NIV Value Thinline Large Print (2011 edition). 2017. Zondervan. 1110 pages. [Source: Bought]

6. NASB 1995, Thompson Chain-Reference Bible, Red Letter, Comfort Print, 2023. Zondervan. 2144 pages. [Source: Bought]
7. KJV Cameo Reference Bible with Apocrypha. Black Calfskin Leather, Red-Letter Text. God. Cambridge Bibles. 2011 this edition. 1868 pages. [Source: Gift]

Monthly and Yearly Totals:

Books Read in 2024145
Pages Read in 202432703
Books read in January36
Pages read in January6875
Books read in February 38
Pages read in February9731
Books read in March39
Pages read in March6730
Books read in April32
Pages read in April9367



© 2024 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, April 19, 2024

43. The Mystery of Locked Rooms

The Mystery of Locked Rooms. Lindsay Currie. 2024. 256 pages. [Source: Library] [Middle grade realistic fiction]

First sentence: "Angle it the other way!" West screeches, holding his mirror up in the air. Sweat beads on his forehead, and his eyes are wild with excitement. We're going to beat the clock this time. We have to. "Toward the door!"

Premise/plot: Sarah Greene and her friends West and Hannah love, love, love, love, love to do escape rooms. "The Deltas" find it super-thrilling to work together to beat the most challenging of escape rooms. However, their attention turns slightly away from "escape rooms" to an old abandoned fun house built in the 1950s. It is rumored that this never-opened-to-the-public fun house contains hidden treasure. Sarah is desperate for treasure to save her family. (Of course she is). Working together, these three ignore all the warnings and no trespassing signs to break into the fun house and find the treasure. What they find is essentially a series of escape rooms. If they find their way out of the house, will there be treasure in their hands?

My thoughts: I finished this one by sheer will power. I want to be very clear that this is my subjective opinion. I personally could not suspend my disbelief. And that is what this book depends on to thrive, to succeed. Readers need to believe wholeheartedly in this adventure: that a seventy-year old abandoned house--a fun house--is no worse for wear and ready to entertain those who love challenging puzzles. One thing that personally annoyed me is how personal and omniscient the messages to the three children are. This is never explained how the house seems to know everything--you'd think that a clue/message hidden in a house long, long, long abandoned would not be omniscient to know if it was the first, second, third, etc. choice of the kids. 

The fun house itself does not make sense. It seems that it wouldn't be efficient for multiple people to visit. For example, if you have to break down a wall to reveal a secret room (via trapeze) that doesn't seem like it would be cost-efficient, if you have to re-set up that little trick every time someone comes. 

And I can't forget for one second that escape rooms did not exist in the 1950s. The idea that sixteen escape rooms have been sitting abandoned with traps ready to spring for seventy plus years is too much for me personally. 

I also found the ending disappointing. 

 Other readers probably won't overthink the plot mechanics. I think the book does offer strengths--the three characters are developed. I like the give and take of their relationship(s). 


© 2024 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

42. Before Nightfall

Before Nightfall. Silvia Vecchini. 2024. 128 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The sea is all light.

 Premise/plot: Emma loves, loves, loves her brother, Carlo, who is hearing and vision impaired. The two communicate through sign language [though not American sign language]. His one 'good' eye is failing and he will soon undergo a surgery with a chance to save what remains of his vision. The book follows their uncertain yet hopeful story as it unfolds. Emma has met a boy--whose name I can't recall and who isn't 'important' enough to get a mention in any blurb--and he also befriends the family. The story is told in a blend of poetry and prose.

My thoughts: Middle grade realistic fiction. This one is in some ways difficult emotionally because of the content. Yet to avoid it strictly because it might be hard, uncomfortable, or sad doesn't seem fair. (Especially if you're an adult.) Some young readers DO seek out stories that are bittersweet or with the potential for sadness. Life can be unfair, a bit unjust. Real life does not promise tidy tied in a bow happy endings. The love Emma has for her family is so strong and it was lovely to spend time with her.

© 2024 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Sunday, April 14, 2024

41. One Big Open Sky

One Big Open Sky. Lesa Cline-Ransome. 2024. 304 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: On the ride back from church
every time Charly
trotted faster
or trotted out the way
of a too-big hole in the road
my head fell against
Daddy's soft Sunday shirt
blue as a clear sky
Momma was humming
the hymns to herself
in the back of the wagon
we just finished
singing out loud
in the pews
Riding next to Daddy
listening to Momma
I asked Daddy
What was your momma and daddy like?
and he pulled back
hard on the reins
enough to make Charly start
and lift his head
wondering what Daddy wanted
Charly knew there wasn't no need
for Daddy to be pulling
in the middle of his trotting
in the middle of the road
when he knew just where he was going
Daddy heard my asking
but didn't answer straitaway...

Premise/plot: Historical verse novel written for middle grade about the pioneer life--that essentially describes this one. Set circa 1879, this one follows a wagon train of black pioneers or homesteaders. All are heading west for a chance to improve upon their lives--a chance to own their own land and embrace more freedom, to break with their pasts. There are three points of view. 

My thoughts: Verse novels can be hit or miss for me. I sometimes do enjoy verse novels, but sometimes I'm more why is this written in verse??? why wouldn't prose be a better fit???? Personally--and this is completely subjective--I think prose would have worked better for me. 

Pioneer life was DIFFICULT. This book doesn't shy away from death, death, death, and more death. 

I was slightly bothered by the lack of punctuation throughout the novel. I think you can tell that from the first sentence. 


© 2024 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, April 11, 2024

40. How To Solve Your Own Murder

How To Solve Your Own Murder (Castle Knoll Files #1) Kristen Perrin. 2024. 368 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: "Your future contains dry bones."

Premise/plot: Frances Adams receives a fortune at a country fair that changes the lives of her and her friends in Kristen Perrin's newest mystery novel. The mystery has dual time periods. Frances' journal/diary is from 1965/1966. The present story is told from the point of view of her great-niece, Annie Adams. It seems that Frances' fortune that she would be murdered was accurate. It is up to Annie (and several others) to solve her murder and possibly inherit her estate. Frances spent most of her life--all her adult life--preparing for the day. She took NOTES and kept files and records on anybody/everybody. So Annie will have a lot of material to work from...but it might just prove dangerous. The person who murdered Frances might not hesitate to murder again...

My thoughts: I really LOVED this one. There were multiple crimes to solve. The characterization was substantive. So MANY characters--all of them quirky/interesting. Plenty of people might have motives for wanting Frances to mind her own business...but who would kill to protect a secret? There are red herrings. But I really enjoyed puzzling this one out. I enjoyed BOTH narratives. Definitely recommend this one. 


© 2024 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

39. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Suzanne Collins. 2020. [May] 439 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Coriolanus released the fistful of cabbage into the pot of boiling water and swore that one day it would never pass his lips again.

ETA: I just reread The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes after watching the movie adaptation--twice. The movie (obviously) resonated with me. It helped in the reread that I knew exactly what was coming in regards to the end. Though to be fair the end is ambiguous both in the book and film. There are definitely differences between the book and film. I highlighted--digitally--some scenes that were different. One thing that stands out, for example, is that Sejanus asks Coriolanus to TRADE tributes. Lucy Snow definitely comes across more as a possession, an asset, an object than a love interest. There are a million and one red flags...not only in his relationship with Lucy Snow but also with his non-friend-friend Sejanus. There are MORE characters in the book than there are in the film. 

My original review:

Premise/plot: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a prequel (of sorts) to Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games. The protagonist (he is not a hero) is a young (very young) Coriolanus Snow. He comes from a previously wealthy (high class) family that has fallen (hard and fast) on hard times. His only hope of a better life--a more prosperous future--is a scholarship to university. And that may be completely out of his control. Twenty-four students will become mentors to the twenty-four tributes coming to the Capital for this year's Hunger Games. (It's the TENTH hunger games.) The victor's mentor will receive a scholarship. The Hunger Games are still relatively new. Those viewing (and participating) still remember the hard, bitter, horrifying, traumatic times of actual war. Capital's economy certainly hasn't recovered from the actual war. (There is nothing lavish and luxurious as readers (and viewers) may remember from the original trilogy of books.) The Hunger Games are still in their infancy, still being shaped and formed by master minds. (People like Dr. Gaul...and her students...)

Coriolanus's tribute is from district twelve. Her name is Lucy Gray Baird. She's a singer with charisma, a bit of star quality. She has a little something special that makes her stand out from others. He sees this as her greatest strength. Perhaps the two of them can manipulate things along--here and there--and with a little luck she may win it all. Hooray for his bright future....

But things don't always go according to plan...even when they seem to... It seems there's always someone watching just a smidge cleverer.

Readers also meet his classmates. In particular Sejanus Plinth who is essentially "new money." His family has the funds but they are new to Capital. Sejanus still thinks of himself as belonging to District 2 and being one of the people. Which makes things super tricky when he has to participate (as a mentor) in the Hunger Games. He feels one with the tributes--whether they see him as one of them or not. He cannot accept that these tributes are animals, monsters, incapable of thought and feeling. There is no "us" and "them."

Throughout the book, Coriolanus struggles with his ambitions and his conscience. You might think of the old imagery of an angel on one side and a devil on the other. 

My thoughts: I don't feel like my time has been completely wasted. It hasn't. I just wish the book had been shorter. I really don't understand *why* the part after the conclusion of the Hunger Games had to go on so long. The first half of the novel was compelling enough. It was interesting to see the great contrast between these primitive earlier Hunger Games and the later Games which are depicted in the trilogy. Worlds of difference between Capital then and now, between the Games then and now. I liked how Coriolanus and Sejanus both--in their own ways--disapproved of how the tributes were being treated. There are moments when Snow comes across as well--human.


I almost wish that Lucy Gray had lost in the games OR been murdered by the powers that be soon after. I really HATED how that story resolved. I think Snow could still have turned all dark side and evil as a result of someone else killing Lucy (the supposed love of his life). Their scenes together reminded me of the DARK and DEPRESSING scenes of Oliver Twist. (The murder of Nancy).


© 2024 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, April 01, 2024

38. Snowglobe

Snowglobe. (Snowglobe Duology #1) Soyoung Park. Translated by Joungmin Lee Comfort. 2024. 384 pages. [Source: Library] [YA Dystopian; New Adult]

First sentence: In the living room, Grandma is sunk in her chair in front of her favorite TV show, a heavy quilt draped over her lap. I look down at the weather ticker scrolling away along the bottom of the screen.

I read the description of this one and that was enough of a hook to get me. I'm not sure I could do the book justice by trying to summarize it. You should know it is set in a futuristic dystopia. The world building was FANTASTIC. The characters were well-developed, fleshed out. The plot was both simple and complex. 

It stars a sixteen year old, Jeon Chobahm, who wants to be part of their world--Snowglobe. The residents of Snowglobe seemingly have it all. The residents are actors, directors, celebrities if you will. They are the only people on earth to live in a warm climate. The rest of the world is in perpetual winter or ice age. Her dream is to be a director, to be direct one of the shows of Snowglobe. 

Be careful what you wish for. She'll be presented with an opportunity. Does she have the right to say no? Maybe? maybe not? Regardless, she does NOT want to miss this opportunity. She runs straight for it. It is only afterwards when she begins to suspect that the Snowglobe she knows through the screen isn't the real Snowglobe.

I am so glad I borrowed this one from the library. It was such a fascinating/engaging read. Usually dystopian novels require a LOT of suspension of disbelief. You almost read with an eye-roll. It may be very entertaining, but equally obnoxious. Some are so heavy-handed and ridiculous hitting you over the head with a couple of hammers that there's no fun to be had. This one I completely became absorbed in. I didn't feel manipulated or preached at.


© 2024 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

37. Uprising

Uprising. Jennifer A. Nielsen. 2024. 384 pages. [Source: Review copy] [J Historical Fiction; MG Historical Fiction]

First sentence: If I'd known what was coming that morning, I'd have done things differently. I certainly wouldn't have fought with my mother.

Premise/plot: Jennifer Nielsen's newest book is set in Poland during the Second World War. It is a fictionalized account inspired by a real teenager, Lidia Zakrzewski, a Resistance fighter. Lidia, our heroine, is outraged when Poland falls and the Nazis invade. Everything changes dramatically in such a short amount of time. Her home life--which had some tension before with a difficult mother--becomes truly dramatic. Still, she keeps on keeping on--resisting, persisting, doing anything and everything to defy the new regime. "Simple" things like going to an illegal school so she can continue her education. More difficult things like becoming a messenger--running messages for those in the resistance--before ultimately becoming a fighter herself. This is a brutal coming of age story set in a harsh environment.

My thoughts: I have never been disappointed by Jennifer A. Nielsen. Still holds true with her newest book. I found this one engaging. I read it quickly--one or two sittings--because I just got caught up in the story. It was a rough read as many war books are. But it was a GREAT read. Definitely recommended.


© 2024 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews